One of the common questions that many students and even practitioners often think about is the difference between Spirit (Shen) and Soul (Ling). At least in my 10+ years of teaching, this is a question that I get asked frequently by many students. To some, this maybe somewhat simple but to most it draws a great deal of confusion and so it should, as there is a remarkable difference between the two ideologies especially in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) compared to modern Chinese Medical teachings.
To begin with a simple comparison between the two notions of discussion, the primary difference is that the Spirit also referred to as Shen is classified as yang being that it is “insubstantial (intangible or heavenly) whereas the Soul also referred to as the Ling is Yin being substantial (somewhat tangible or humanly)” – (J. Yuen).
Another attempt of clarifying this is that energy, which is also somewhat intangible, can also be associated with the Spirit. Meaning it (spiritual energy) as well known in TCM cannot be created or destroyed but rather transformed.
Because of this transformation, the “Spirit is not perceived, but rather its perceived through its forces and actions” (J. Yuen) also known as vibrations (the transformation). And this action or vibration being more tangible is what Jeffrey Yuen states as the Soul. So it is – that the Soul is a material form of the Spirit.
When you say, I can feel their (someones) energy, what you are saying according to TCM is that you are feeling their resonance or vibration (being the Soul). The Soul is the combination of qi and blood, which makes it tangible, and what allows this “tangibility is the Kidney essence” (J. Yuen), (known in TCM as Jing). Our essence is our foundation of creation and purpose and underlying this is our Will or “will power” as one description. Our Will to live with purpose.
Here, it is important to note that one of the most important connections in our life and our energy is that between the cycle of Heart and Kidney. More easily explained as our drive and passion (heart) and our purpose and foundation (kidney).
The soul being the materialisation of the spirit, as it is grounded in our body – it gives our body life and movement.
Within our body, there is also another reference I would like to point to and that is that the Soul also correlates to two unique and individual parts which is known as the Hun (Ethereal Soul) and Po (Corporeal Soul). The Hun is associated with the liver and its basic function is to help build our inspired creations, our ability to plan our lives and more importantly our strengths in building sincere relationships to acquire the help of others in fulfilling our life’s goals and aspirations. While the Po represents our breath and the ‘organisation’ of our physiology (the way we work and move) so that we can be healthy in our attempt to fulfil our life in order to become masters of our destiny.
Jeffrey Yuen talks about a spiritual imbalance/disturbance correlates to emotional or mental imbalances such as not being happy with a decision or feeling violated or feeling lonely causing distress whereas a Ling (Soul) imbalance relates to feelings of inadequacy or lack of fulfilment in ones physical nature or appearance. For example, not being happy or content with who you are, the way you look (not happy with your identity) or feeling the pain and resistance of ageing as the body moves into the yin phase of decay and deterioration. (J. Yuen)
So when treating psychological disorders or imbalances, it is wise to determine your approach in terms of helping people with contentment and or expression of spirit and soul.
To simplify and conclude, we must remember that our Soul is simply the materialisation and embodiment of our Spirit through which we are the vessel that allows us the opportunity to express our spirit in order to fulfil our purpose on planet earth before we leave and transform. We must push our limits to help reach our maximum potential and unfold our destiny.
Dr. Sohial Farzam
Doctor of TCM
References: Jeffrey Yuen’s sessional talk on Spirit vs. Soul. You can learn about Jeffrey Yuen’s teachings here: